“The world is larger and more beautiful than my little struggle.”
“The world is larger and more beautiful than my little struggle.”
“Well,” she said, standing in the middle of a pile of what we might call reduced circumstances, “I guess this is my new normal.”
My friend was too tired to fight the injustice that brought her to this place. In a way she accepted it as her lot in life, as a fulfillment of predictions spoken over her in the past. Teachers, social workers, and bosses didn’t always wait to be out of ear shot before they said things like, “She’ll never amount to much,” or “What do you expect from someone with her background?”
I tried to encourage her, but My words slipped past her ears as if she assumed they were meant for someone else, someone more worthy of love and respect. She shrugged and went back to unpacking her baggage.
I was thinking about the word “normal” yesterday. Her normal. My normal. God’s normal. How does our acceptance of limited expectations become normal? What if we have glimpses of possibilities that are beyond past experiences? Does seeing potential wreck our concept of normal?
Yesterday I was lying in bed exchanging text messages with my eight-year old granddaughter who is currently with her family in Africa. I wondered what my grandmother would have thought if she had seen this possibility when I was an eight-year old. A phone with no wires, that could send and receive voices, text, photos, and even video of a new house on the other side of the world in a few seconds? Impossible!
In an old trunk I’ve stored a letter my grandmother received from her mother in Ontario. Grandma’s child had died tragically in Saskatchewan. Her mother’s written words arrived weeks after the funeral. In comparison, my granddaughter was telling me about her new surroundings and their arduous two day trip from western Canada to South Africa. On the same day. As she ate breakfast. I love listening to her.
Then my wifi cut out.
We have been having problems with it lately because of the floods. I felt angry and frustrated with such unreliable service – a service that has only been available to me since I acquired a cell phone. It’s not that I feel entitled to a method of communication we never dreamed of when I was a child, it’s that I feel disappointed by the loss of a means of communication I now know exists. My sense of normal has been changed by knowledge of a device that only existed in the future of the girl I was when I talked to my grandmother as I wrapped myself in the cord attached to the telephone in the hallway. She never even dreamed of such a thing as she told me about how she used to send letters to her mother in a cabin in the bush thirty miles from the nearest road. “Normal” changes with visions of possibilities.
I was thinking about this when a line from a song began playing in my head. The song, as is often the case with songs God uses to communicate with me, came out of the blue and was one I haven’t heard in years. The line that kept repeating was, “Promises, promises, My kind of promises…”
I did an internet search and found the lyrics by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, which are, in part:
Oh, promises, their kind of promises, can just destroy a life
Oh, promises, those kind of promises, take all the joy from life
Oh, promises, promises, My kind of promises
Can lead to joy and hope and love – and love!
I asked the Lord why he was bringing this to my attention. I always thought promises were good things, but he began to remind me of bad promises that had been spoken over me the way curses had been spoken over my discouraged friend.
I promise you there will be punishment when we get home.
I promise you that no one will ever love a fat girl.
I promise you that you will never have friends because you don’t know how to be a friend.
I promise you that no one remembers who came in second.
I promise you that you are only as good as your last performance.
I promise you that when those people learn you are just a poor girl from a poor family they will drop you so fast…
I promise you that no one cares what you have to say. You’re just a woman. Shut up and follow the rules.
I promise you God has no time for people like you who still sin and don’t earn his favour.
I wasn’t expecting a rush of these memories. Some of these “promises” I walked out on years ago. Some still sting.
I had to ask, “What are Your promises, Lord? What do you see instead? What possibilities do you want to show me that change my sense of ‘normal?’”
He is changing me. He is replacing old expectations of limits with new possibilities. He is saying, “Believe this and not this.”
So much of this journey is about learning to let go, to unlearn, to press on in the absence of the familiar, to absorb and be infused with the “insteads” that Jesus announced when he read his mandate aloud to a people living in resigned disappointment. From Isaiah 63:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Who does Jesus say you are? What are the promises he has spoken over you? What possibilities is he showing you that you never dreamed of before?
Ask him about your new normal. He loves that question.
A roaring lion is no threat to the bird who knows enough to rise up high in the tree to sing her song.
The devil is a terrorist.
My friend, Jeff, pointed out yesterday that while the motivating force behind heaven’s actions is love, the motivating force the powers of evil try to sell us is fear. The world is saturated in fear and constantly trying to manipulate with fear. All stress is fear based and includes “What if [insert nightmare here].”
Graham Cooke points out that fear and intimidation is a low-budget item for the enemy of our souls. But God’s love? Love is costly. And He was willing to pay the price.
This week we have again been hit with fear bombs, the ill wind of dire predictions, and a feeling of being corralled by lack of options. The devil is nasty. Terror is custom-made; it hits where you are most vulnerable. Many friends, some of my family and myself have had these kind of sneak attacks happening lately.
Jeff pointed out that those who have turned to Christ learn to thrive by breathing the joyful, peaceful atmosphere of heaven. If you panic and pull your mask off you will immediately breathe in the poisonous atmosphere of fear.
When we keep focusing on Christ we build a relationship with him through thanksgiving for what he has already done, by praising him for his character and attributes and by taking time to breathe the cleansing pneuma of the Holy Spirit.
When we cry. “Abba! Father!” and rest our weary heads on the chest of the One who loves us most the atmosphere changes and grows from the kind offered via oxygen mask that falls down in emergencies to entire bio-domes where the Kingdom of heaven is being established in a community and where Christ’s love is at the center of all our actions. Love casts out fear.
At the moment I am conscious of the need to firmly hold that mask of thanksgiving and praise and trust close to my face and to reject clouds of toxic fear swirling in the atmosphere. The joy of the Lord is my strength because I am loved by the Creator of the universe. I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.
No matter which way the storm winds blow I am a much loved child of God and if you want to attack me, you’re going to have to go through Him.
John, the disciple who knew he was loved, wrote:
Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times. Have a reputation for gentleness, and never forget the nearness of your Lord.
Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.
Keep trusting in the Lord
and do what is right in his eyes.
Fix your heart on the promises of God
and you will be secure,
feasting on his faithfulness.
Make God the utmost delight and pleasure of your life
and he will provide you
what you desire the most.
(Psalm 37:2,4 The Passion Translation)
I love raiding people’s bookshelves when I am a house guest. It’s like a conversation that continues after everyone has gone to bed. Tell me more about who you are and what’s important to you.
My son-in-law caught me perusing his shelves one evening.
“Here,” he said, pulling a thin book out of the line-up. “You will like this author. He presents profound ideas in a palatable way, and he has your sense of humour.”
The author was Graham Cooke. The book changed my life. I ordered more of his books and devoured Youtube videos. He was teaching concepts that confirmed what I felt the Lord was showing me but I didn’t have words for yet. He was also teaching concepts that made me run to the scripture to see if this was true. If it was I was going to have to make some major course changes in the way I thought, and who wants to mess up their head with changes if they don’t have to?
After paying attention to Bible passages I was in the habit of skipping over (to reach my “quiet time quota” for the day) I realized my thought processes needed a major overhaul in some areas.
I was pretty much on my own in exploring this new way of thinking (focusing on how God wants to reveal some new aspect of himself in every circumstance, living in my identity as a much loved child of God, praying as a bride and not a widow, realizing the old sin nature is dead and learning to jettison old sin habits in favour of making choices based on the fact that I have a new nature, understanding that Holy Spirit doesn’t merely drop by for an occasional visit because Christ is in me and I am in Christ etc.).
Progress for someone who needs to ditch a habit of overly cautious (okay, sometimes lazy) procrastination has been slow. I’ve had to back out of a few rabbit trails in my lifetime when I made the mistake of unquestioningly following guides who were more sure of themselves than they ought to be. I am wary of following one person. I don’t believe anyone has the whole picture and I need confirmation from other sources and especially need to learn to hear from the Lord myself before I make big moves. But I like this guy. He provokes me to goodness and living in joyful trust in the Lord.
Imagine my utter surprise when I walked past a little church in my neighbourhood and saw a marquee announcing that Graham Cooke would be speaking there the following weekend. What was a writer and speaker who stood before thousands at events internationally doing here in my small remote city in the Canadian Rockies? It couldn’t be the same Graham Cooke. I phoned and checked. It was! Well, I’ll be… Of course I registered for the conference.
Have you ever been in a place where someone addresses the very issues you have been discussing with God lately? I soaked it all in.
Except for one thing.
Another speaker who accompanied Mr. Cooke talked about faithfulness to friends, family and community. He stressed the importance of honouring them, especially in keeping agreements.
A local group I belonged to scheduled a meeting for the same time as the last session of the conference. A few weeks before they had changed the evening they met on to accommodate my schedule. I had planned to make my apologies and skip the meeting when this guy (bless him) used a hypothetical example so similar to my situation I felt like he had been reading my mail.
I struggled. I wanted to be at the final session. I was so hungry for more. But that evening I walked out of the conference venue and went to the local group’s meeting as an act of obedience. I asked my husband to go to the little church and take notes. He obliged, loving man that he is.
As soon as I could get away I rushed back to the church and just about bumped into Mr. Cooke as he exited the building. He smiled, nodded, got into a waiting car and left.
Someone grabbed me, “Wasn’t that absolutely marvelous? Can you believe what he said? He came here to this little place because he had a prophetic word specifically for us!”
“What did he prophesy?”
“Weren’t you paying attention?”
“I just got here. I had a meeting…”
“He told everyone 55 and older to stand up because the Lord had something for every holding out their hands to receive. Maybe someone recorded it. I’m so encouraged, so thrilled that the Lord remembers us here.”
I was 55. I wasn’t there. I didn’t hold out my hands to receive something special from the Lord’s prophet. I missed it.
I was new to this kind of stuff. I had come to see how prophecy, like healing, is still active and had been very influential and encouraging in the lives of people around me. I, however, had never received a prophetic word more specific than “God wants to be your friend” or other nice things one could write in terms so general they could apply to at least 1/12th of the population reading the newspaper on any given day. This was a specific word, and a good one. And I wasn’t there.
I tried not to let it bother me. But it did. When I got home I cried, remembering all the times I felt like I was left out as a child.
I have struggled my whole life with a pervasive sense of being on the outside looking in. Never fitting in. The girl from the religious family playing the records while other children danced at school. Too young, too old, too small, too big. The girl allergic to birthday cake and ice cream. Cinderella without a godmother. Never going to the ball.
It takes a while to recognize a set-up, especially a God set-up. I didn’t tell anyone about my great disappointment for quite a while. But the Lord used the occasion to point to a hole in my heart that needed healing. And he has been doing that. He’s also giving me connections in places I never expected, with people who understand.
One thing I have learned that I didn’t know before is that one of the jobs of a New Testament prophet is to teach people how to hear God’s voice for themselves. In Old Testament days the Holy Spirit came upon men and women to deliver a specific message. Since few had the Holy Spirit directly communicating with them, the role of prophet as conduit became extremely important. Messages from God were few and far between. Centuries even. You couldn’t afford to miss one.
Things have changed. Jesus changed them.
Waiting for a prophet to tell us what God wants to say to us is a kind of abdication of our privilege to ask him ourselves. When we do hear from those who have heard God’s encouraging words for others, it’s nearly always a confirmation of something we have been feeling but haven’t assembled in usable form yet. It’s wonderful, but it’s a bonus. Holy Spirit himself makes his temple in hearts that are open to him now. And he promises to never leave.
When I asked the Lord sometime later why I was left out that evening, I felt him comfort me and say I wasn’t left out of the promises given. They are for me as well. I can claim them. It’s just that he didn’t want me to be distracted or tempted to worship the messenger. He wanted me to seek Him so he could tell me himself.
It’s all about relationship.
This weekend there was an event in Anaheim which I longed to attend. Many of my new friends who support Graham Cooke’s ministry are there. Again I made the decision to honour the needs of family and friends first and stayed where I have commitments. I am tempted to feel left out again, but when the Holy Spirit living in me connects with the Holy Spirit living in others, even though we are not in the same room, there is unity in the Spirit. I’m not on the outside. We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord.
The Church, the Body of Christ, is wherever his people are, including here, today, on the internet, with you.
You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.
(Isaiah 26:3 NKJV)